Wildlife Dressed for Halloween

Have you ever wondered why so many animals follow a Halloween-themed dress code of orange and black? From the American Redstart to the Monarch Butterfly, and thousands of species in between, this is indeed a common color combination.

Below you’ll find a slideshow I created of photographs that my partner took on our travels. Here, you’ll see animals from California to Borneo, Mexico to Peru, which will give you a taste of the diversity of species that sport this color theme.

Spooky Animal Colors Slideshow


Reasons for Color Patterns

Black is a nearly universal color in the animal kingdom, including humans, and contributes to our hair and skin colors. It is a pigment made up of a chemical compound called melanin, which is synthesized from amino acids in the body.  Its function is to strengthen and protect the structures in the body that are subject to wear and tear, so it is especially common in bird’s bills and flight feathers and in the exoskeletons of insects.


American Redstart. Illustrated by Christine Elder

Orange is less common than black, or its neighbors yellow and red but can be found throughout the animal kingdom, from orangutans to ladybugs. In birds it is found in orioles, warblers, robins and many tropical species from toucans to the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.  Unlike black coloration, oranges and other bright colors tend to be more pronounced in the males (especially in the breeding season) in order to attract a mate, while the female of the species is drab; helping to camouflage her while sitting on the nest. Orange, and its related colors, comes from carotenoid pigments, that are largely acquired from food sources, including leaves, insects, fruits and seeds, though genetics certainly plays a role in the expression of those colors.

The subject of coloration in animals is a fascinating one that we have only briefly touched upon here. Animals can gain their colors in myriad ways and use these colors and color combinations for a variety of purposes from advertising for mates to camouflaging from predators. I hope after reading this, you’re inspired to learn more!

Suggested Reading

If you’d like to learn more about the fascinating subject of coloration in animals here is an excellent source:

  • National Geographic Bird Coloration by Geoffrey Hill